Twenty-five Jewish children exposed to radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster arrived in Israel this week on the latest in a series of rescue flights organized by Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program.
The children are from Gomel and Mozyr, among the most contaminated cities in Belarus, where thyroid cancer rates have soared to 200 times above average, according to a recently released World Health Organization report.
It has been nine years since the Chernobyl disaster, the world’s worst nuclear meltdown.
The Lubavitch movement, also known as Chabad, initiated the Children of Chernobyl program in August 1990, in response to requests for help by parents in Belarus and Ukraine. Since then, 16 flights, including the one that landed Tuesday, have brought 1,164 radiation-exposed children to Israel, according to Chabad officials.
They arrive without their parents, and live in Kfar Chabad, where they attend school and receive medical care.
According to the Children of Chernobyl program director, Yossie Raichik, there are still thousands of children living in areas “where food is contaminated and medical treatment is sorely lacking.”
The latest WHo report cited higher than normal rates of thyroid cancer in the Kiev area and in western Russia. A University of Oregon research team found areas as far as 145 miles from Chernobyl with radiation rates three items above the minimum evacuation criteria.
Chabad recently accelerated its schedule of flights in response to the WHO predictions that the current cancer rates are “only the tip of the iceberg” and will rise dramatically in the coming years, Raichik said.
Chabad is “committed to getting as many children out as quickly as possible and providing them with a healthy living environment, non-contaminated food and the finest medical care in Israel.” Raichik said in a statement.